Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Taste of Los Cabos: Los Tamarindos

Lunch at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo Courtesy of Los Tamardindos
Lunch at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico /
Image Credit: Los Tamarindos

There is something supremely satisfying about coming together as a group, whether it be with family or friends or people you've just met, to share a meal. And that satisfaction increases tenfold if you've worked together to transform individual ingredients into finished dishes, presented on platters made for passing with two hands.

Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

After spending the morning wandering around downtown San Jose del Cabo, we headed to Los Tamarindos, an organic farm in Los Cabos located about a mile from the Sea of Cortez, where we were treated to a tour of the grounds and a private cooking class with Chef Enrique Silva, local chef, restauranteur, and proprietor of the farm.

The Kitchen at Los Tamarindos - Photo by Taste As You Go
The Kitchen at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

The property dates back to the 19th century and was first used to cultivate sugarcane, one of the area's major exports at that time. In 2003, the Chef Silva rededicated the farm to the cultivation of organic produce, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, leeks, onions, carrots, tomatillos, beets, and a variety of greens and herbs. In support of the philosophy of cooking with local ingredients, guests utilize the food grown on-site at Los Tamarindos in their cooking classes.

Event Garden at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Event Garden at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Large Mango Tree in the Event Garden at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Large Mango Tree in the Event Garden
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Upon arriving at Los Tamarindos, we tumbled out of the comfort of our air-conditioned shuttle van and back out into the stifling Mexican heat. As he would do with any other group, Chef Silva led us to the shaded area under a large mango tree, the focal point of the rustically romantic event garden, and began telling us about the motivation behind establishing an organic farm in Los Cabos.

Mangoes in the Event Garden at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Mangoes in the Event Garden
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

As Chef Silva spoke, the leaves of the mango tree would rustle every so often as the ripened fruit fell from the branches and into the netting strung from end to end. Occasionally, you'd hear a thud as a mango would miss the netting and drop to the ground.

Beware of falling fruit!

Lemongrass Iced Tea in the Event Garden at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Lemongrass Iced Tea in the Event Garden
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Too cool down from the heat a bit, we were served generous glasses of lemongrass iced tea made with lemongrass grown on the farm. I loved everything about this iced tea, from its gorgeous amber color to its subtle sweetness and lemony flavor.

Hand-Washing Techniques at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Hand-Washing Techniques at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Before heading up to the kitchen to get a sneak peak at the ingredients for the sauce for our main dish, the Chivito Regional, Chef Silva took some time to discuss the strict hygiene standards at Los Tamarindos. Since its a working farm, it's absolutely necessary for all employees and guests to wash and disinfect their hands before coming in contact with any of the food being grown in the fields. The above sign was posted outside the bathroom facilities closest to the event garden and we followed the instructions to the letter.

Well, more like the pictures... I don't speak or read Spanish too well!

Ingredients for the Sauce for the Chivito Regional in the Kitchen at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Ingredients for the Sauce for the Chivito Regional
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

The chivito (Spanish for "goat") that we'd actually be eating for lunch was already cooking away, but Chef Silva wanted to show us what ingredients went into the sauce so we could understand how simple it was to put together. Oregano, an onion, an entire head of garlic, Guajillo peppers (seeds removed and then cooked in boiling water), tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste are all blended together to create the beautifully fragrant marinade that tastes sweet to start but then finishes with a surprising heat.

Chivito Regional Ready for the Oven in the Kitchen at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chivito Regional Ready for the Oven
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Then a large post is lined with banana leaves, harvested from banana trees on the farm, and the sauce is poured over 22 pounds(!) of goat meat. The goat is left to marinate for four hours before being put into the oven to cook for three hours.

Wood-Burning Oven at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Wood-Burning Oven at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Chef Enrique Silva Peeks into the Wood-Burning Oven at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva Peeks into Wood-Burning Oven
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Chef Silva Gets Ready to Close Wood-Burning Oven at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva and the Wood-Burning Oven
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

In this case, the goat was put into the oft-used and well-loved wood-burning oven. Even from a few feet back, you could feel the intensity of the heat, and I almost felt relief knowing that we'd be heading into the fields to get a close-up look at the produce being grown.

Preparing to Head into the Fields at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Ready to Hit the Fields at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

But first, I put on the hat provided by Chef Silva to protect myself from the blistering sun. Safety first!

Chef Enrique Silva with Rows of Arugula at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva and the Rows of Arugula
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Arugula at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Arugula at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Sage at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Sage Plants at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Eggplant at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Eggplant at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

In the interests of conservation and efficiency, Los Tamarindos installed a drip irrigation system in the fields. Although the initial cost of the system was high, it was worth it since the farm perpetually saves water. Plastic covers the base of the plants, preventing loss of water from evaporation. The plastic also prevents light from hitting the ground directly surrounding the plants, thus minimizing the growth of weeds and the need to hire extra labor to pull the weeds.

Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Packing House at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Packing House at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Branded Packing Box at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Packing Box at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

After we had sufficiently baked ourselves in the fields, we headed up to the packing house. I loved knowing that the produce grown at Los Tamarindos travels the absolute minimum distance before being boxed up and shipped out. Of course, the facility was immaculate and had more signs posted instructing people on the proper way to wash their hands.

Press Group with Chef Enrique Silva at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo Courtesy of Los Tamarindos
Press Group with Chef Enrique Silva at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico / Image Credit: Los Tamarindos

By this point, however, we were ready to get back to the kitchen and get our hands messy. But not without tying on our matching Los Tamarindos aprons first! We each claimed a stool at the kitchen counter and watched, listened, and learned as Chef Silva talked us through the recipes for each of the dishes we'd eat that afternoon:

1st Course
Queso en Hoja Santa

2nd Course
Los Tamarindos Salad

3rd Course
Zucchini Colash

4th Course
Chivito Regional

Dessert Course
Stuffed Zucchini Blossom with Fresh Cheese and Quince Ate

Hoja Santa Leaf at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Hoja Santa Leaf at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

We started by prepping our first course, the Queso en Hoja Santa, a pizza-like dish made using large velvety Hoja santa leaves as the "crust" and then topping it with a shredded local cheese and basic tomato sauce. Typically, Asadero cheese is used because of its similarities to a hard mozzarella cheese. What made this dish unique for me were the undertones of licorice in the leaves.

Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Once the dish was assembled, we set it aside for baking a little later. It takes no time for the cheese to melt and brown up, so we planned to slide it into the oven just before we were ready to gather around the table.

Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos at Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Of course, though, Chef Silva didn't make us wait to try a little bit. Magically, a freshly baked Queso en Hoja Santa appeared in front of us and we immediately cut it up and served it around.

Crazy good.

Heirloom Tomatoes at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Heirloom Tomatoes at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Making Vinaigrette for the Los Tamarindos Salad at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Vinaigrette-Making at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

We then moved onto cutting the heirloom tomatoes for our salad. Arugula grown at Los Tamarindos served as the base and it was tossed with the chopped tomatoes and an herb vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, marjarom, and a little bit of lime juice.

Simple.

hef Enrique Silva Pours the Wine at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva Serves the Wine
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Before moving onto the preparation of our third course, the Zucchini Colash, Chef Silva took a break and refilled our wine glasses. There's no better way to cook with new friends than with copious amounts of wine!

Prepping the Vegetables for the Zucchini Colash at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva Prepares the Zucchini Colash
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

But, back to business. Time to prepare the Zucchini Colash!

Two pounds of zucchini are chopped in medium-sized cubes are sauteed in a half-cup of extra-virgin olive oil before three cloves of garlic and a pound of tomatoes are added to the pot. After seasoning with basil, salt, and pepper, the heat is reduced and the pot is covered so all of the vegetables can cook down and the flavors can marry.

Mexican Ricotta Cheese at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Ricotta Cheese at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Chef Enrique Silva Spoons Ricotta Cheese on the Zucchini Colash at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chef Enrique Silva Spoons Ricotta Cheese on Zucchini Colash
at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

To finish the dish, spoonfuls of ricotta cheese are dropped on top of the vegetable mixture and the cover is replaced so the whole thing can rest. What results is a fresh and flavorful dish that takes on a creaminess from the ricotta. So, so good!

Zucchini Blossoms at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Zucchini Blossoms at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Zucchini Blossom at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Zucchini Blossom at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Since the goat dish was already cooking away, we moved on to the assembling of dessert, Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms with Fresh Cheese and Quince Ate. The stuffing itself was simple, just a rounded tablespoon full of ricotta cheese. The blossoms were cooked on the stovetop in some hot oil and then topped with a sliced of quince ate, which had the consistency of a thick fruit leather.

Press Group Ready for Lunch at Los Tamarindos on Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo Courtesy of Los Tamarindos
Press Group Ready for Lunch at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico / Image Credit: Los Tamarindos

We worked hard for our lunch. Chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, drinking wine... Bring on the food!

Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Queso en Hoja Santa at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Los Tamarindos Salad at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Los Tamarindos Salad at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Los Tamarindos Salad at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Los Tamarindos Salad at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Fresh Pita at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Fresh Pita at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Chivito Regional at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chivito Regional at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Chivito Regional at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Chivito Regional at Los Tamarindos
in Los Cabos, Mexico

Zucchini Colash at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Zucchini Colash at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms with Fresh Cheese and Quince Ate at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico - Photo by Taste As You Go
Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms with Fresh Cheese
and Quince Ate at Los Tamarindos in Los Cabos, Mexico

Oh, what a feast we had!

Chef Silva's son joined us for our meal, and it didn't take long for us to clean the platters that had once been piled high with food. Everything was absolutely delicious, and I love-love-loved the goat. I showed no shame and dug right in, picking up the pieces of meat with my fingers and eating the meat right off the bones. I think Chef Silva appreciated my enthusiasm!

The tour of the farm and the cooking class were phenomenal. Even if I hadn't been a member of a press group, I would've scheduled time to experience both while in Los Cabos. It was amazing to have participated in the preparation of local Mexican fare with locally-grown ingredients, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Thanks so much to Chef Silva for hosting us!

Animas Bajas
23400 San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
MX: (624) 105-6031

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Taste As You Go Disclaimer: I was provided with the opportunity to travel to Mexico on this press trip at no cost to me. I did not accept monetary compensation for writing about the trip or about my experiences while in Mexico. All opinions expressed are my own.